We enjoy the show Chopped for more than the anxiety-producing cooking challenges. For us, it’s also about the inspiring chefs who follow their dreams in order to succeed in the challenging world of professional cooking. We recently spoke to Chef Ronaldo Linares (@Ronaldoscocina) to learn about how he went from Colombia to the Marines to the kitchen.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? What do you enjoy most about cooking?
RL: Being born and raised the first nine years of my life in Colombia, it was all about food, having to go with my mom to the chicken coupe and get dinner. All the market trips and getting some of the most amazing produce you could imagine. Well this is what I think now but at that time, it was more like “Why do I always have to come” L but it came to be a blessing in disguise.
In 2000 while I was in the Marines, I made the decision to become a chef. Spending four years as a Food Service Specialist and cooking for the masses was around the time I really got the itch to be a chef. In the Marines, I was able to learn great leadership qualities that would be a key factor in the growth as a chef in the years to come.
I enjoy being a chef because of the freedom of creativity you are allowed with the fruits of the earth-it is something great. Just think about it taking four or five ingredients, making them in to food art, and just being able to put your feelings on a plate.
FP: What an incredible journey! Name some of your favorite chefs (if any) and why.
RL: The first two have to be my father and mother, they gave me the foundation to get this chef thing going and it’s in the blood 😉 How do I follow these two chefs up? Hmm…I would have to say Jamie Oliver because of the changes that he has made with food, helping so many people with his food revolution, creating an empire from good old fashion hard work, and just simply being himself through the journey.
‘FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? Would you do it again?
RL: My experience on Chopped was amazing from casting, to the interviews, bio shoot, and finally being in front of the “BASKETS” with the all mighty secret ingredients. Looking down the line and seeing all these amazing chefs with so many accolades, I could say it felt perfect. I don’t think many things compare to the rush of cooking under such pressures-you don’t know the ingredient, the kitchen, there is no “MISE EN PLACE”, and to boot there is only 20 minutes on the clock. All that goes away once the iconic Ted Allen says “GO”. I would do it again if they called me at this moment because it truly tests your skills as a chef.
FP: When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook (If any)? If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in cities you’ve visited.
RL: Living in Flemington, NJ there is a lot of access to farm to table shopping so I’m lucky to buy some incredible produce and make some fresh simple dishes. One of my favorite dishes to make is a quick stir-fry from the wonderful bounty and adding some amazing Asian flavors. One hidden gem in the city is The Strand Bistro at the Strand Hotel where Chef Kelvin Fernandez creates some amazing dishes with such care and love.
FP: Mmm, we’d love to sample your stir-fry! What are some of your guilty pleasures (if any)? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
RL: My guilty pleasure or “foodie pleasures” would be a nice grilled cheese sandwich with a glass of organic milk. Nothing beats that combo and nothing takes me back to my childhood better than that.
FP: Grilled cheese is a true foodie pleasure indeed! Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them.
RL: First person would be Al Pacino- I would prepare a Seared Skirt steak with avocado/cilantro chimichurri I make and cooked rare/Green Plantain mash (Mofongo).
The second would be Armando Perez also known as “PITBULL.” I would prepare a Pernil Asado con Chicharon/Roast pork with Crispy pork skin/Congri (Dirty rice).
The third individual would have to be half-sister who I have not spoken to in four years. I would prepare for her an old fashion Ropa Vieja/Shredded Beef because it is one of her favorites.
FP: In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?
RL: Charismatic. Inspiring. Passionate.
FP: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing?
RL: If I had not become a chef, I would be a WWE wrestler. It was something that I wanted to do as a kid. I remember the matches that my little brother and I would have after we had watched Wrestlemania. The memories of trying to act like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, and Ultimate Warrior just to name a few. That just brought a smile to my face, thanksJ
FP: Where will we see Chef Ronaldo in ten years?
RL: You will see Chef Ronaldo on a couple of shows, being an ambassador for Cooking Matters, an inspiring public figure, and most important a role model and a voice for those that don’t have one. The amount of love that is in my heart will feed thousands and thousands of people full of inspiration, motivation, and a form to succeed in the world we live in.
FP: We saw you in a promo video for BBC America’s Chef Race: US. vs. UK. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
RL: As you guys know the secret is out and the promo has finally come to light on BBC America’s “Chef Race: US vs. UK.” This is a show filmed over the summer and it truly will show the world what it takes to be a “CHEF” and “RESTAURANTEUR.” It’s me along with seven other great chefs battling the UK. The show comes from a great heart and a fierce competition throughout. That’s pretty much all I can say, sorry guysJ
FP: Chef Ronaldo, thanks for letting us in on the “Chef Race” secret! We can’t wait to tune in on the show and to follow your career in the years ahead. Please keep us posted on your culinary adventures!
Chef Ronaldo is currently the Executive Chef and CEO of Martino’s Cuban Restaurant in Somerville, NJ. For more information on Chef Ronaldo, visit http://ronaldoscocina.com/ to learn more about his professional services as a personal chef.